'The Last of the Toscaninis'

How Personal Destiny is Impacted by a Famous Relative

Tuesday, January 24, 2012 - 02:06 PM

It is one thing to be a famous, historical figure and quite another to be that person's relative. Inevitably, their own destinies are affected, in ways good and bad, by their association with their famous relations. Is it possible to look at a painting by Lucien Freud (1922-2011) without thinking of his grandfather Sigmund? If the famous person is revered as a genius -- say a Mozart or a Toscanini -- then their other family members might either bask in their glow or be consigned to dark oblivion. Or blaze a path all their own.

This post and the next one will be about relatives of famous people, a Mozart and a Toscanini. On the last day of 2011, Walfredo Toscanini died at the age of 82. He was the only son of Walter, the Maestro’s only son who survived to adulthood, and was often called "The Last of the Toscaninis." This is not accurate, but he was the last male of the Toscanini line to bear that surname and who had contact with the great Arturo. His mother, Cia Fornaroli, was a star ballerina and danced in the world premiere of Turandot, led by Arturo Toscanini, at La Scala and the Italian premiere of Stravinsky’s Petrouchka, conducted by the composer.

I lead a series at the Casa Italiana Zerilli-Marimò of NYU called "Adventures in Italian Opera," which includes an annual session devoted to a great opera practitioner. On December 5, there was an evening dedicated to Arturo Toscanini that featured Harvey Sachs, the conductor's biographer, and was to include Walfredo. By then, however, he was too sick with leukemia to participate, but was recalled with great fondness.

At a January 11 memorial celebration at Manhattan’s Frank E. Campbell Funeral Chapel (where Arturo’s service was held in 1957), Sachs spoke of Walfredo as having had two careers: architect and grandson of Arturo Toscanini. As a Toscanini, Walfredo’s early life was well-documented. Sometimes the children of famous people go on to comparable fame (think Henry and Jane Fonda or George H.W. and George W. Bush), but others prefer a more private life. They are often highly accomplished, but just not in the public eye.

Progressive Politics

Walfredo was married to his wife Elaine for 53 years, the same number as Arturo was married to Carla. They had three daughters -- Liana, Maia and Cia-- and two grandsons. He inherited from his grandfather and father a strong sense of social justice and was a lifelong liberal. Sachs told the story that Walfredo arrived in America at the age of nine, having left Fascist Italy at a time when an Italian Republican was someone who believed in a free, democratic nation rather than a dictatorship. In his new school in America, a classmate asked him if he was a Republican or a Democrat and Walfredo, not knowing the difference in an American context, replied that he was a Repubblicano

In the 1970s, Walfredo served on the City Council of New Rochelle, NY. From 1975 to 1977 he was deputy mayor. Chris Selin, a fellow Democrat who served with him, said that Walfredo claimed, “I never considered myself a politician who postures on popular positions of the day, but as a legislator.” He was in the vanguard on environmental issues and, in 1977, secured a then-rare grant to convert the city library to solar heating and expand the building to become a cultural center. He and his staff designed Five Islands Park, which was converted from being a dump. He was active in housing preservation and the creation of housing for senior citizens. He also served on the New Rochelle Council on the Arts.

Music was not the only art form loved in the Toscanini family. The visual arts were a great passion of Arturo’s. Walfredo once said that his grandfather had a huge collection of paintings, perhaps two hundred, that entirely covered the walls of his Milan apartment and made it look like an art gallery. Walfredo said that when it was clear to Arturo that no one had inherited his musical talents, he was pleased that at least Walfredo loved painting and drawing. Estelle Margolis, who enrolled in the Yale School of Architecture with Walfredo in 1951, recalled that he and his classmates all had to draw as they created their ideas, just as the great Italian Renaissance artists practiced disegno, which implies design and creation through drawing. Nowadays, architecture students are expected to design on computers rather than draw by hand. Walfredo’s drawings are now at the Sterling Library at Yale.

In his career as the grandson of one of the most famous conductors of all time, Walfredo was known among friends and colleagues to speak of Arturo the man as much as Arturo the legend. The conductor had a habit of sitting on and breaking innumerable pairs of eyeglasses. He compelled his family not to reveal that the April 4, 1954 concert at Carnegie Hall would be his last because he did not want ceremonies and encomia, but to simply “slide away.”

Preserving a Family Legacy

And yet the life and work of Arturo Toscanini were serious as art and as business and needed the right steward. Sachs said that one of Walfredo’s great achievements was the way he both preserved and promoted his grandfather’s legacy. He saw to it that films and recordings were cared for, that the papers were properly edited and archived, and that musicians, scholars and the general public would know of Arturo Toscanini in all of his complexity.

“Some musicologists,” Walfredo told a colleague in Italy, “have written that my grandfather was an instinctive conductor, but lacking in culture. Nothing could be more mistaken. He had a vast knowledge of artistic creation all over the world and he passionately kept abreast of it. In the cities where he conducted he visited museums, frequented literary salons, was a dedicated reader of books, and was a friend of painters, poets and philosophers, as the thousands of letters he left can attest.”

In 1987, Walfredo donated papers, correspondence, scores, films, photographs, recordings and other documentation of Arturo to the New York Public Library Performing Arts branch at Lincoln Center. This came at a time when the family could have realized a good deal of money had the material been sold or offered to other institutions, but he was insistent that it be kept together in one place where it would be properly treated. He remained a resource to the library almost to his death. In 2007, to coincide with the fiftieth anniversary of Arturo’s death, a major exhibition was mounted that included a lot of the material Walfredo provided.

Walfredo also saw to it that all of the recorded performances were properly maintained. A complete set of Toscanini performances will be released by Sony later this year, an accomplishment that is as much a credit to Walfredo as it is to Arturo.

Walfredo’s impact on many people was made abundantly clear at the memorial. All described him as sweet and modest, elegant and ironic, generous and even-keeled. No one failed to mention that he was also very handsome but he used his character and values rather than his looks to do what he felt had to be done. Estelle Margolis, the architect, read a quotation from him: “Family has meant the most to me, with all its ups and downs. I have learned that if I don’t stick by my principles, I can’t live with myself.”

As family members and friends lovingly spoke of Walfredo, my mind was overtaken with some particular music. I cannot say that the version I heard was conducted by a Toscanini, but I would like to believe it so:

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Comments [19]

Henry Shaffner

Hi! It may not be well-known but Toscanini's great-grand daughter has

a high position at ASCAP (The Association of Composers, Authors &

Publishers.) Cia Toscanini is a lovely young woman who would make her

illustrious ancestor proud!

Jul. 01 2014 02:01 PM
enrico cerutti from london

I am originally from PallanzA ITALY.The Toscanini family were living there on a small island ISOLINO SAN GIOVANNI ON LAGO MAGGIORE till the sixty.
THEY were very friendly and very much loved by everyone and still lovingly remembered.
a bronze of the MAESTRO still exist in front of the island.

Nov. 10 2013 12:16 PM
enrico cerutti from london

I am originally from PallanzA ITALY.The Toscanini family were living there on a small island ISOLINO SAN GIOVANNI ON LAGO MAGGIORE till the sixty.
THEY were very friendly and very much loved by everyone and still lovingly remembered.
a bronze of the MAESTRO still exist in front of the island.

Nov. 10 2013 12:16 PM
enrico cerutti from london

I am originally from PallanzA ITALY.The Toscanini family were living there on a small island ISOLINO SAN GIOVANNI ON LAGO MAGGIORE till the sixty.
THEY were very friendly and very much loved by everyone and still lovingly remembered.
a bronze of the MAESTRO still exist in front of the island.

Nov. 10 2013 12:16 PM
Roar Schaad from Bloomington, Illinois

I had the great pleasure and privilege of meeting Walfredo Toscanini twice. The first time was in the fall of 1963. I was living in New York City and I had this crazy idea to go to Riverdale and to say hello to Walter Toscanini. I took the subway as far as it would go north. When I got off the subway I statred looking for the address I had of the Toscanini Villa Pauline. Well I got lost and knoked on the door of Walfredo Toscanini instead. He told me his father was further north and wished me luck. The second time was in the spring of 1982. I was in NYC to do research for a program on Arturo Toscanini I was doing at a local NPR station. I found out that Walfredo had an office in the city so I went there to ask him for an interview for my program. Luckily he was in and he granted me an interview. He was very cordial, told me stories of his grandfather, I took a few pictures of him and he signed a picture I had of him and his grandfather from the 1950 NBC tour. My interest in the Toscanini legacy goes back to 1958 when I purchased the RCA Victor set of the Beethoven symphonies. My memories of meeting not only Walfredo and Walter Toscanini but of meeting Wanda and Sonia Horowitz will always remain.

Jul. 03 2012 06:25 PM
Peter Boucher

I would do anything if someone would know a list of all of the historically famous people of the music world (or non-musical world) that Toscanini knew !!

Jun. 09 2012 06:35 PM
Fred Plotkin

To Robin: The singer is the great Zinka Milanov, one of the foremost Verdian sopranos of the mid-20th Century. Any recording you find with her singing will give you great pleasure.

Jan. 31 2012 06:18 AM
robin from Greenwich Village

My Grandmorther who was a classical pianist worshiped Toscinini. When I was a little girl I remember that she painted a portrait of him, the very picture you display here on this video. He conducted like fire, air, earth, metal and water. This diva is magnificent and sublime. Who is she? Will this recording be on Sony's compilation? I would so like to know if I could find this particular recording which is so magnificent! Toscinnini was indeed a maestro of the highest caliber. My grandmother surely understood that too. Thank you.

Jan. 28 2012 06:04 AM

As a music student at CCNY, I attended one of the broadcasts of Toscanini and the NBC. As a conductor he was a "god" among my fellow students as well the faculty.

Though I was critical of that particular broadcast at the time (It was all LVB and consisted of the Leonore No. 2, I think, and the "Pastoral".), I too greatly admired him. And still do for the bulk of his output and for his anti-fascist political views.

And though I only briefly met Walfredo years later at some sort of Yale function (?), I am still very saddened to hear of his death.

Jan. 27 2012 10:44 AM
Joseph Zoltowski from Staten Island NY

It was wonderful to read how the recordings of Toscanini continue to touch listeners. Sometimes it seems that he. like many of his contemporaries, has been forgotten. I was fortunate to have a father who loved music and had a collection of Toscanini/NBC Symphony recordings that he would play on his home-made "Hi=Fi" while I would be playing with my toys on the living room rug. The sound of those performances has always stayed with me When I became older I started to collect any Toscanini recording that I find. My thanks to Mr. Plotkin for this insightful article and for the reminding us of a grandson's dedication to the work of his famous grandfather. They both left the world an important legacy.

Jan. 26 2012 08:35 PM
Stefano Albertini from New York

I knew Walfredo and I can say that you captured in a beautiful manner his humanity, intelligence and elegance. His grandfather was not only a musical genius but also one of the few real Italian heroes. His grandson was worthy of his nonno's legacy.

Jan. 26 2012 03:31 PM
MARGARET NOLAN from Bronxville, New York

Come to Bronxville. You should talk to the Toscanini-McBrides, some of whom are still young students, and enamored of the
Toscanini story.

Jan. 26 2012 10:59 AM
Fred Plookin from New York

Thank you, to the commenters on this article, for the fascinating and thought-provoking observations.

Jan. 26 2012 09:51 AM
Michael Meltzer

Like Ms. Nardone, I grew up with Toscanini broadcasts and recordings. Many listeners of our generation, in complaining about current interpreters, are perceived as nit-pickers and curmudgeons. The actuality is that we have listening expectations for the combination of precision and exitement that Arturo Toscanini never failed to deliver. He spoiled us all forever.

Jan. 25 2012 10:06 PM
Eileen from Upstate, NY

I have often wondered what happens to relatives (sons/daughters) of famous musicians eg, Mozart, Mahler, etc etc. I for one would love to see more articels on relatives still alive today and who they are decended from etc etc.

Would this be something that someone could do in a regular column?

Jan. 25 2012 12:10 PM
concetta nardone from Elmont, NY

I was very lucky to grow up when radio was more popular. Listened faithfully to the NBC Symphony conducted by the great Arturo. Radio was a wonderful medium at that time. I also listened to Italian radio which broadcast great music. I often tell friends that NBC was run by the Sarnoff family who believed that the media should also ennoble one's tastes. Wonder what they would think of NBC now. Real housewives, political hacks yelling at each other on MSNBC, etc. etc. Quite a bit of garbage not worth the electricity to waste.
Very fine article, thanks.

Jan. 25 2012 11:07 AM
Les Bernstein from Miami, Florida

Thanks for another fascinating biography. It's sobering, to say the very least, to have seen young Walfredo with Maestro in the film "Hymn of the Nations," and now to realize he, too, is gone. By coincidence, last night I re-read Virgil Thomson's review of the "Requiem," the finale of which you uploaded. The Saturday night NBC broadcast was a fund-raiser for the Alma Gluck Zimbalist Memorial for the Roosevelt Hospital Development Fund, and I hope you and others find one paragraph as illuminating as I did. From "Theatre and Religion", "The New York Herald Tribune" review of 25 November 1940. "The Maestro conducted it as if it were no more complicated than 'Miserere' from 'Il Trovatore' and no less splendidly compelling than 'Otello' or 'La Traviata'. The Westminster Choir, handsomely gowned in white satin and violet velve of ecclesiastical cut, sang perfectly. But perfectly. The soloists, Zinka Milanov, Bruna Castagna, Jussi Bjoerling, and Nicola Moscona, sang like stars from some celestial opera house. The two ladies merit each a mark of 99 percent for their rendition of the impossible 'Agnus Dei' passage in parallel octaves unaccompanied. The kettledrummer, whose name I do not know, merits mention in heaven for his two-stick, unison explosions in the 'Dies Irae' and for the evenness of his Verdian 'ppppp' elsewhere." I assume the kettledrummer was Karl Glassman, but the bass drum player's I don't know. In the 1951 performance, that bass drum part, marked "ff," sounds more like thunder to me than a bass drum! The score notion reads "Le corde ben tese onde questo contrattempo riesca secco e molto forte." My hat's off to whomever the bass drum player was in both performances, as well as for everyone involved!

Jan. 25 2012 10:14 AM

Thank you for this thoughtful denouement to your excellent discussion with Harvey Sachs. This adds to the understanding of the life and work of Maestro Toscanini as well as describing the interesting life of his grandson. The rare letters, films and recordings that you and Mr. Sachs presented, along with this writing, picture a person, not just an icon. You have a gift, Fred, for remembering people and their work that is personal and informing and yet always respectful.

That Walfredo Toscanini chose to express himself in architecture is maybe fitting when considering Goethe's words that "I call architecture frozen music."

Jan. 25 2012 01:23 AM
Carl R. Hausman from Louisville, KY

I have for years had the greatest respect for Arturo Toscanini. I collected every recording of his performances (audio and video) that were known to me. He represents the epitome of musical clarity, power, and honesty. His performances have served as standards for performances by other conductors. His apparent conception of the nature of music has helped reinforce my own. Each composition has its ideal status, and it is the ideal that should be approximated by every performance. Toscanini's for me exhibit the closest to that ideal that I believe is possible to realize.

Alas, I was able to attend one of his live performances.

Jan. 24 2012 04:24 PM

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Operavore is WQXR's digital 24/7 audio stream and devoted to Opera. The Operavore blog features breaking news, expert commentary and reviews by writers Fred Plotkin, David Patrick Stearns, Amanda Angel and others. The music stream features a continuous, carefully programmed mix of classic and contemporary opera recordings.

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